Last Friday, the government got Aadhaar amendment bill passed through the Lower House (Loksabha) amid the opposition protests that they infringe on the Supreme Court Aadhaar verdict.
The three proposed amendments that got a nod from the cabinet are- The Telegraph Act, Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) and the Aadhaar Act, to allow private firms such as banks and telecom companies to use Aadhaar as one of the ‘know your customer’ (KYC) methods.
The bill now is due to be presented in the Upper House (Rajyasabha) on Monday and Tuesday before becoming a law.
What raises eyebrows here are the amendments sought by the government in the Aadhaar Act after SC ruling against it.
As per Asia Times report, a piece of fresh evidence in the form of recording raised a question on the government being allegedly lobbied by a private group to push for amendments.
The conversation took place in Bengaluru during an open house discussion and involved Sharad Sharma, one of the founders of Indian Software Products Industry Round Table (iSPIRT), Sanjay Jain, the former chief product manager of the Aadhaar program and a woman, a legal counsel for Khosla Labs.
Khosla Labs promotes Aadhaar Bridge, a set of applications that allow private entities to integrate Aadhaar into their existing applications without the need of a separate government license. It was one of the firms whose business became standstill after SC judgment.
The recording raised concerns over potential policy interference by lobbyists.
In the recording, they talked about the government plans to amend the existing law. They anticipated that the move is on the cards to ensure private businesses can continue to access the Aadhaar database. The leak confirms that they were aware of the development before the government introduced it in the parliament.
However, Jain has termed the recording unauthorised as they weren’t in knowledge about the conversation being recorded. In a response to the report, he denied going beyond the public feedback and having any interactions with the government on the bill.
The conversation took place soon after the apex court verdict.
In September, the Apex Court in its ruling had struck down Section 57 of the Act, which mandated that private firms could access Aadhaar users data.
The SC ruling had put Aadhaar-based authentication to verify customers by private firms in a fix. The verdict has raised the cost of authentication to almost 6 times in comparison to present cost and turned it into a more time-consuming process.
If the government suggested amendments get through the Upper House, will allow private firms unconfined access of users data for commercial purpose voluntarily.
This is at a time when the government is yet to present Data Protection Law in the parliament.